Following on the heels of our initial brainstorming session, Central Neighbourhood House and yours truly hosted the first major art workshop in conjunction with the One Billion Rising campaign yesterday, again in two parts: in the morning with the Mandarin Women’s Group, which I regularly run, and in the afternoon with our diverse group of Somali, Swahili, Bengali, and Tamil participants.
The idea was to create paper doll-like figures that would link hands when put together. Each woman present received a piece of coloured construction paper to set their several figures onto (3 being the usual number). Some part of the figures was left blank so that personal messages could be inscribed. Most of these were in first-language scripts but some also wrote in English. When I asked about this, many of the women described their choice to use English as based on their love and pride in living in Canada.
We received an astounding range of images varying in tone from comedic to poignant to tragic, as observed in style as well as content. Morning and afternoon sessions alike were characterized by a flurry of scissors and paper and glue, and with the sheer number of attendees I gained direct insight into only a few works from the artists themselves, but as I and my fellow facilitators remarked in sifting over the pictures at day’s end, the level of expression made possible by the visual language of art tended to transcend the need for explanation – a fact made all the more profound in light of the stifling role language barriers can play in the daily lives of many of the women. Some facilitators also noted with surprise the number of women who before this had never done art and might have been unlikely to that jumped in fully with both feet. The venue, they speculated, provided just the right coupling of theme and medium to help draw a wealth of creative energy to the surface.
After 3:00 when the group dispersed, the coloured tiles with the figures would be set up around the building’s perimeter, to symbolize the unity and connection of the women of CNH. A debt of thanks is owed the wonder team of Safia, Kamini, Cala, Fatuma, and Afroza (left to right, below) who braved a windy and freezing cold day to complete this final step with me. As a site-specific and temporary installation, we snapped a bunch of pictures and took it right down again to get back as fast as we could into the inviting warmth of the building!!!